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Virginia Journal of Education


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'Always Connected': Teaching the Millennials



by Glen Bull
The Pew Internet and American Life Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that tracks the effects of expanding connectivity on society. The Pew Foundation has concluded that Millenials – the first generation to come of age in the new millennium – can be characterized as first always connected generation.

Unprecedented levels of connectivity are altering communication and collaboration patterns. Over 80 percent of Millenials sleep with a cell phone by the bed “poised to disgorge texts, phone calls, e-mails, songs, news, videos, games and wake-up jingles,” according to recent Pew Foundation research. Texting has become a preferred channel of communication among teens. A typical teen sends 50 text messages per day, or 1,500 text messages per month, according to the Pew report “Teens and Mobile Phones,” released earlier this year.
 
Prior generations carried data on physical media – paper tape in the 1960s, floppy discs in the 1970s, data CDs in the 1980s, DVDs in the 1990s, and USB flash drives after the millennium. In contrast, increasing numbers of Millenials are replacing physical media with data stored in the cloud. They often stream music over the Web instead of buying physical CDs, stream movies over the Web via Netflix rather than renting physical DVDs, and read newspapers on the Web rather than buying physical newspapers at the newsstand.

Internet services, such as Dropbox (www.dropbox.com), are replacing physical media. Dropbox is a free service that can store up to 2 gigabytes of data in the cloud (i.e., on remote data servers) at no charge. (Additional storage is available for a modest fee.)  Dropbox creates a folder on the desktop that is synchronized with the Web. An individual with a Windows desktop system, an iPhone, and a laptop can place a file in the Dropbox folder on any of these systems. The file automatically appears in Dropbox folders on all of the other systems. The file is not only synchronized across systems, but also is automatically backed up. Storing data in the cloud ensures that personal documents and information are always available to the always connected generation.

Folders within Dropbox can be shared with other users to allow them to collaborate on documents without sending e-mail attachments back and forth. Any type of file or application can be stored in a shared folder. This allows collaborators to use native applications such as Microsoft Word or Excel and counterparts such as QuickOffice on the iPhone/iPad to work together. An open electronic book E-PUB (electronic publication) format allows books to be accessed via a shared drive in the same manner. PDF files are another commonly shared format that can be accessed in a variety of readers across different platforms.

This dramatically increases the ease of publishing information. All that must be done is to simply edit a document in a shared document on the desktop—no further actions are required. It substantially increases the ease of accessing published information by converging a wide range of devices and operating systems – Windows, Mac, iOS (iPhone/iPad), Android, etc. –into a common way to access the same information.

A teacher, for example, can share a Dropbox folder with his or her students, allowing anyone in the class to access assignments, information and resources at all times. This allows teachers to share information by dragging information into a shared folder on their desktop. Students can access the information from any device – mobile phone, laptop or desktop PC.

In the past this information might have been published on a class Web page, blog or wiki. Alternative Internet services simplify the process of sharing information by bypassing the Web altogether.  Wired magazine recently published a special issue on these kinds of alternative Internet services with the somewhat sensational title, “The Web Is Dead”  (www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/). The Web – hype notwithstanding – is not dead, and is likely to continue to flourish and continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

However, the ability to make a change in a text document and have the change instantly reflected on the portable devices of an entire class of “always connected” students has ramifications that could alter ways in which we think about educational information. Students will increasingly have portable cell phones and similar data devices (such as the iPad and iPod Touch) with them throughout the day. This has implications for development of online courses and virtual schools as well as traditional bricks-and-mortar classrooms.

Bull is co-director of the Center for Technology and Teacher Education in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

 


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